Defaunation in the Anthropocene is the loss of animals that is leading to cascading effects on biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi are associated with more than 80% of all terrestrial plants and are critical for the belowground interactions that affect plants biomass and vegetation dynamics. Large herbivores are highly threatened in the Atlantic Forest. The consequences of the loss of these ecosystem engineers and potential long-distance AMF dispersers is completely unknown. We propose to revise the topic of AM dispersal and examine how defaunation, the loss of large herbivore mammals (i.e. tapirs Tapirus terrestris and white-lipped peccary Tayassu pecari) mediates the diversity and distribution of AM fungi in the Atlantic Forest. This proposal is organized in two sessions guided by the following two main questions: (1) what are the main vectors of AM fungi propagules in different ecosystems? (2) does the loss of large herbivores affect the taxonomic (DNA-based taxa) and the phylogenetic structure of AM fungal communities in the Atlantic Forest? To achieve our aims, we (1) perform a comprehensive review of the literature that will result in a most needed review paper on the topic and (2) use original empirical data to investigate the DNA-based AM fungi community from the largest defaunation experiment in the Neotropics. The results from this research proposal will serve to expand the knowledge on these key plant symbiont/mutualists and to place the belowground dynamics in the context of the eminent defaunation of the Atlantic rainforest.
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